History-making civil rights attorney Fred Gray to receive honorary doctorate
By Kim Chaudoin on 5/29/2012
Prominent civil rights attorney Fred Gray was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lipscomb University during the 32nd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference (CSC) that took place on campus June 7-9.
Gray played a key role in landmark litigation that helped advance civil rights including the defense of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and counsel for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study participants.
Gray has been at the forefront of changing the social fabric of America regarding desegregation, integration, constitutional law, racial discrimination in voting, housing, education, jury service, farm subsidies, medicine and ethics and generally in improving the national judicial system.
"Friday night was perhaps the most historical moment on our campus," said Lipscomb President L. Randolph Lowry, referring to the June 8 gala dinner where Gray recieved his honorary doctorate. About 500 people attended the gala, including former students from the Nashville Christian Institute, a primarily African-American school that Lipscomb came to own and then later closed in the 1960s.
“This is the highest honor the university bestows on an individual. It expresses Lipscomb’s proactive vision for integration at all institutional levels as integral to the university’s mission,” said David Fleer, professor of Bible and communication and director of the Christian Scholars’ Conference.
The theme for this year’s CSC is “Reconciliation: At the Intersection of Scholarship and Practice.” Gray’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement makes this honor particularly fitting for this year’s conference, Fleer said.
Gray was honored at an invitation-only special presentation and dinner in his honor on June 8 in Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.
About Fred Gray
Gray began his legal career as a sole practitioner, less than a year out of law school, and at age 24, represented Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, the action that initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gray was also Martin Luther King Jr.’s first civil rights lawyer. This was the beginning of a legal career that now spans over 55 years.
A native of Montgomery, Ala., Gray is in the general practice of law specializing in civil rights litigation and lives in Tuskegee. He is the senior partner in the law firm of Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray, Gray & Nathanson P.C., with offices in Montgomery and Tuskegee.
He is admitted to practice in the United State Supreme Court as well as in the Supreme Courts of Ohio and Alabama among other local and district courts. Among his notable cases are City of Montgomery v. Rosa Parks, State of Alabama v. Martin Luther King Jr., Aurelia A. Browder, et al v. W.A. Gayle, et al (integrated the buses in the City of Montgomery), Williams v. Wallace (court ordered State of Alabama to protect marchers from Selma to Montgomery after being beaten on Bloody Sunday), and Lee v. Macon County Board of Education (integrated all state institutions of higher learning under the Alabama State Board of Education, and 104 of the then 121 elementary and secondary schools systems in the state). He was counsel in preserving and protecting the rights of persons involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1972, the case of Pollard, et al v. United States of America.
One of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction, Gray was also the first African Americans elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association in 2002. He also served as the 43rd president of the National Bar Association and is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, American College of Trial Lawyers and International Society of Barristers. Gray is the recipient of numerous awards including the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit from the Washington Bar Association, Harvard University Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion; the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award and the Federal Bar Association’s Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award.
Gray is the principal founder of the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, which serves as a memorial to the participants of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and educates the public on the contributions made in the fields of human and civil rights by Native Americans, Americans of African descent and Americans of European descent.
About the Christian Scholars' Conference
The Christian Scholars' Conference calls together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines in the liberal arts, sciences and professional schools to develop their own academic research and to reflect on the integration of scholarship and faith. Participants and presenters come from the nation’s top universities including Yale, Notre Dame, Cornell, Duke and Harvard.
Among the civil rights-focused discussions during the conference were:
• “Cross Currents of Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Justice: Considerations from Post-Genocide Rwanda and Select Legal Discourse in the United States,” featuring a diplomat from the Republic of Rwanda to the United States, legal professinals and a response by Gray;
• “Racial Reconciliation in Three American Cities” that examines racial reconciliation in Little Rock, Ark.; Macon, Ga.; and Harrisburg, Pa.; and
• Discussions of race relations in the Churches of Christ centered around cross-cultural initiatives and a current assessment of relations.
The Christian Scholars’ Conference was created in 1981 under the direction of Olbricht, distinguished professor emeritus at Pepperdine University, and is now hosted by Lipscomb University. The mission of the Christian Scholars’ Conference is to create and nurture an intellectual and Christian community that joins individuals and institutions to stimulate networks of scholarly dialogue and collaboration.
For complete details on the 2012 conference visit csc.lipscomb.edu.